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Port cargo was flat in May, but experts predict a busier summer

June 14, 2012|By Ronald D. White
  • A cargo container ship arrives at the Port of Los Angeles in June.
A cargo container ship arrives at the Port of Los Angeles in June. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

Cargo volumes through the nation's busiest seaport complex were basically flat in May compared with the same month a year earlier, but international trade experts said that trade numbers should improve in June.

Import cargo through the the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which rank first and second in the U.S., respectively, were down 2.42% in May to 620,659 containers compared with May 2011. Exports were down by 0.08%, to 314,190 containers. Empty containers headed back to Asian manufacturing centers were up, but not enough to shove the numbers into positive territory.

Overall traffic through both ports was down 0.03% to 1,229,245 cargo containers. Through the first five months of the year, the totals for both ports were similarly flat, up just 0.72% to 5.58 million containers. They were the kind of numbers that were leaving even the experts somewhat flummoxed about the strength and course of the economy.

“Consumer demand for durables has been weak for quite some time and dropped further in May," said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, which tracks cargo through the nation's busiest ports for the National Retail Federation, "yet at the same time consumer confidence is at its highest level since 2007. Confused? So is the average consumer.”

Cargo volumes through the two ports are an important indicator of the strength of the regional and national economy. Los Angeles and Long Beach usually handle more than 40% of the nation's Asian imports, and they export more U.S. goods than any other seaport. More than half of the state's 1.1 million international trade jobs are connected to the two ports.

Looking at the nation's seaports as a whole, Zepol Corp. said that import cargo volumes were up 3.49% in May, compared with a year earlier, at just under 1.6 million cargo containers. That meant the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports had a 38.84% share of the U.S. import cargo in May. Minnesota-based Zepol Corp. tracks international trade data.

Individually, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach continued to have very different years.

The Port of Los Angeles had its busiest May ever. Imports were up 2.70% to 370,722 containers. Exports were up 0.45% to 185,107 containers. Counting empties, the port's cargo volume in May was 731,353 containers, up 5.54%.

"It was another strong month for us," said Los Angeles port spokesman Phillip Sanfield," later adding that port officials were hoping that a surge in empty containers through the port meant that more imports were on the way in the coming months.

The Port of Long Beach saw cargo traffic drop 7.2% in May to 497,892 containers as import and export volumes fell. Through the first five months of the year, Long Beach cargo is down 6.09% to 2.27 million containers. Port spokesman Daniel Yi said that the decreased volumes were partly due to the loss of business from several niche cargo services that used the port last year.

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